Jeff and Will talk about their favorite reads of 2023, including books by Ari Baran, Leta Blake, Sarina Bowen, Sarah Rees Brennan, Kacen Callender, Slade James, LaQuette, Sher Lee, Dominic Lim, C.S. Pacat, David Valdes, N.R. Walker, and M.A. Wardell.
Jeff reviews Time to Shine by Rachel Reid and then talks to Rachel about this hockey romance that is set during the holiday season. Rachel talks about the inspiration for Landon and Casey and this opposites attract, forced proximity story. Rachel also discusses her holiday traditions, offers some reading recommendations, and details on what she’s working on next.
Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, January 1.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Jeff & Will’s Favorite Books of 2023
- Punching the V Card by Leta Blake
- All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim
- Fence Volume 1 by C.S. Pacat
- Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan
- Teacher of the Year by M.A. Wardell
- Mistletoe & Mishigas by M.A. Wardell
- Muscle Cub by Slade James
- Stars in Your Eyes by Kacen Callender
- Davo by N.R. Walker
- The New Guy by Sarina Bowen
- I’m Your Guy by Sarina Bowen
- Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee
- Game Misconduct by Ari Baran
- Finding My Elf by David Valdes
- Secret Heir for Christmas by LaQuette
- Rachel Reid Interview
- Rachel Reid: website | Instagram | Discord Server | Merchandise
- Time to Shine by Rachel Reid
- Game Changer (Game Changers Book 1) by Rachel Reid
- Episode 329 – Hockey Players in Love with Rachel Reid on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Heated Rivalry (Game Changers Book 2) by Rachel Reid
- The Long Game (Game Changers Book 6) by Rachel Reid
- Lucky Bounce by Cait Nary (pre-order until January 9)
- Taskmaster website
- Vampire Survivors on Steam
- Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on Nintendo
- We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian
- Diamond Ring by KD Casey
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, we take some time to shine as author Rachel Reid talks about her holiday hockey romance.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 443 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me, as always, is my co-host and husband, Will.
Will: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. It is great to have you here as we head into the final two weeks of 2023.
Favorite Books of 2023
Jeff: And since it is the final couple of weeks of 2023, it is time for us to talk to you about the books that we loved so much in this past year.
It was an interesting reading year for me. I’ve read so many books. It was a little hard for me to choose exactly what to put on this list because there was so much goodness. But I was also down books this year. In 2022, I read 80, and this year I only read 53. So, I don’t quite know what was off. I think I wasn’t reading as fast as I was last year, perhaps, because I felt like I was always reading. I didn’t feel like I was in a reading slump or something, so I’m not really sure. I don’t know what happened. But I did read some great stuff as I reviewed my list. Like, oh, that book, that book, that book, that book. So yeah. How was your reading this year?
Will: It was good. I’ve got lots of stories I want to talk about, but like you, mine was down slightly as well. Last year I got tantalizingly close to 100. But this year I’m just like barely above 80, which isn’t that big of a difference. And I can’t tell you, how my reading habits might’ve changed. I was looking at the list and over 50 percent of what I read this year was nonfiction, which is a definite shift. And the mood reading that I’ve been doing for the last couple of years cause if I’m not in the mood for it, it just ain’t going to happen.
So as Jeff and I go through some of our favorites of this past year, please understand this is not a comprehensive list. We did not read every book released in 2023, so we can’t tell you what is unequivocally the best. This is just our personal preferences and what we enjoyed in the past year.
Punching the V Card by Leta Blake
Will: The first one I have to talk about is “Punching the V Card” by Leta Blake. If there’s one thing you can depend on from Leta Blake, it’s a scorching hot sex scene with deep emotional connection, and this book delivers in every conceivable way.
As you might be able to tell from the title, this one is about Carl, who is about to move cross country, and he wants his first time to be something special. So, he enlists the help of Devon, his best friend’s older brother. They spend the weekend together at a family cabin. And they go at it in every conceivable way, and they fall in love in the process. Now, for a sexy book, I was really caught off guard by how invested I was in whether these two were going to work things out. I shouldn’t have been, because, you know, it’s Leta Blake. She knows what she’s doing.
Jeff: You could depend on her for these things, just like you said.
Will: Anyway, give “Punching the V Card” a read if you haven’t already.
All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim
Jeff: So, the first one on my list happens to be the only book that I re-read this year. And it’s very rare for me to re-read in the same year that I read it in the first place. But Dominic Lim’s “All the Right Notes,” struck me so much when I was reading the advanced reader copy of it, that once the audiobook came out, and it was actually narrated by someone who is a Broadway actor, Aaron Albano, and that there was going to be singing in the book. I’m like, I’ve just got to re-read this cause I love the story so much.
This second chance, enemies to friends to lovers story about Quito and Emmett just struck me so hard. There’s so much great storytelling in this book as these two managed to reconnect and forge a way back to the friendship they had, but then go forward to lovers in a way they couldn’t have before. And the thing that I really like about this book and that we don’t often get in second chance romances is a deep dive look at how their relationship broke up in the first place and through, what I would consider a smart use of flashbacks, we essentially get their whole high school story running alongside how they’re getting back together now, as adults. I love this book so much. If you have not read this yet, please put it on your list cause it’s a book you really don’t want to miss. If second chance and enemies to friends to lovers is your thing.
Fence graphic novels by C.S Pacat and Fence novels by Sarah Rees Brennan
Will: So, I’ve had the “Fence” series in my TBR for far too long, and I finally dove in this year. And boy, was I not disappointed. I binged every volume of the graphic novels written by C.S. Pacat, with art by Johanna the Mad, and then immediately dove into the two novels by Sarah Rees Brennan.
The books, they’re all about the lives and loves of a group of guys on a school fencing team. And we follow their interconnected stories, and their relationships, their training, the politics of fencing, which is apparently a thing, you know, who knew. It’s a really wonderful series to sink your teeth into. And I love each of the guys. They’ve got big personalities and it’s a lot of fun to read. It was also fun to read their continuing story in these different formats, first the graphic novels and the more narrative focus that’s featured in the books. It’s really great stuff.
Teachers in Love series by M.A. Wardell
Jeff: I’m so glad you kind of doubled up on some things and just went with series cause I did that a couple times as well because I couldn’t make separations.
So, the “Teachers in Love” series by M. A. Wardell, who was just on a couple of episodes back talking about these books. “Teacher of the Year” and “Mistletoe & Mishigas.” I love these so much. They’re rom-coms. They’re a little bit spicier than your normal rom-coms. So that means the heat level is really smoking hot. Olin and Marvin, and then Sheldon and Theo, just gave me such good vibes reading through the year.
The first one’s a pretty low angst romance between a teacher and a hot dad who transfers his daughter into the school. And then in “Mistletoe & Mishigas,” we got a little bit heavier with some issues around mental health for both Sheldon and Theo, but yet the story and Matt’s style just works so well to bring these two together, help them through their rough times and get them to an HEA on the other side. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series when it comes out next year, because this is such wonderful perfection from this debut author.
Muscle Cub by Slade James
Will: Well, I’m going to do a slight cheat again and talk about “Muscle Cub” by Slade James. This is really a recommendation for the entire “Bear Camp” series. But “Muscle Cub” is about Paul and his first time at the clothing optional gay campground, his friends they keep raving about. Catches the eye of Austin, the Muscle Cub of the title. He works at the campground, and they fall for each other and have to figure out how to continue the bear camp magic after their week is over.
What I love about this whole series is the relaxed approach to sex that the author takes. Because of the setting, the characters in these books, you know, are obviously going to be hooking up a lot, so a traditional will they or won’t they or how will they approach is kind of out the window. And we get stories that begin with a flirtatious, cruising, meet cute, quickly getting to the amazing sex, and then they move on to the really cute, falling for each other portion for the rest of the book. This relaxed approach to sex is something I haven’t seen done in quite this way anywhere else, and it makes everything Slade James writes so unique. It’s a vibe that I really love.
Stars in Your Eyes by Kacen Callender
Jeff: So next up for me is “Stars in Your Eyes” by Kacen Callender. I reviewed this just a couple episodes ago, but this book coming, even so late, in the year just really captured me. This take on Hollywood fake dating, I mean it seems like such a throwback to old school Hollywood, you know, where the studios would set up stars to help the PR machine of the movie that I, for one, didn’t even really consider that it could still happen. But it happens in this book, and it happens in such an amazing way.
You’ve got up-and-comer to the industry, Mattie, and then you’ve got Logan, who’s kind of the bad boy that everybody loves to hate who really kind of sticks his foot in it early on by putting out in a press interview that Mattie doesn’t really have a lot of talent, which is a terrible thing to say when now you’re both cast in the same movie.
The way that Kacen goes through this, navigates the wounds that each of these guys have because of things that have gone on in their past, while also layering in so much kind of behind-the-scenes Hollywood stuff, I just kept turning the pages in this book because I needed to know their story, the story of the movie, the story of how all the stuff would turn out. I loved it so much.
Davo by N.R. Walker
Will: Another book that I thought was unique and definitely worth raving about was “Davo” by N. R. Walker. In this one, Fergus arrives in an out of the way outback mining town to do an assessment to see if it is financially viable to keep it open. And while he’s getting used to the unique challenges of living somewhere so remote, literally in the middle of nowhere, he falls for local nice guy Davo.
It combines a really unique setting and a wonderful cast of quirky characters. This book is really something special. Oh, an additional recommendation goes out to the audio book read by Glen Lloyd. I mean, hello, Aussie accent.
Jeff: That’s a win every single time.
Will: Can’t resist that.
Hockey Guys series by Sarina Bowen
Jeff: Next up for me is another one of my cheats as I call out Sarina Bowen’s “Hockey Guys” series. I started with “The New Guy” back in February. The story of Hudson and Gavin and navigating the new guy on the team who’s been forced to stay in the closet because of his overpowering father, who’s also happening to be his agent, and single dad, Gavin, who also is a new guy on the team as one of the trainers who comes in. Those two guys, I tell you when I read that book, I had to fan myself because these two were so perfect and the way that their story went, it was low angst enough that it just wrapped me up in a warm blanket in the way that Serena Bowen can do for me.
And then just recently, because I did just review it in the last episode, there’s “I’m Your Guy,” which introduced us to Tommaso and Carter. And in this story, it’s an interior designer and this guy who’s new to the Colorado team having to navigate getting his house ready for his mom to visit. And also, it’s kind of an awakening that he finally allows himself to embrace his desire for men. This one just really ticked all the boxes in the way that Tommaso found his way to his true self. And Carter was just a sunshine delight. I really hope the “Hockey Guys” series keeps going because certainly, these two are among my favorite couples of the year, and of course, I’ll take Sarina Bowen hockey any way I can get it.
Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee
Will: Next up on my list is something Jeff and I both read, it’s called “Fake Dates and Mooncakes” by Sher Lee. In this one, Dylan needs to perfect a family mooncake recipe so he can enter a local baking contest. And rich guy Theo needs a plus one to a glamorous Hamptons wedding, and romance ensues.
Oh, I just love this book so much. It makes me kind of mad that it didn’t become the next “Red, White & Royal Blue.” I truly think this is a perfect romance. It’s like mixing Hallmark with “Heartstopper” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” I mean, there are only so many times a guy can go online shouting, “Read this book, read this book!” Without, you know, looking like a total lunatic. So, for the last time this year, I am urging everyone, please check out “Fake Dates and Mooncakes.”
Jeff: I am so glad that made it to your list, because it meant I didn’t have to squeeze it somehow into mine.
Will: I know, yeah.
Jeff: Because it was so freaking good. Netflix, Amazon, somebody.
Will: Pick it up.
Jeff: Make this movie.
Game Misconduct by Ari Baran
Jeff: And I’m coming back to hockey for my last one on this list.
Will: Oh, what a surprise.
Jeff: I know, right? “Game Misconduct” by Ari Baran. This was Ari’s debut romance. And oh my gosh. Out of the park success. Can I say out of the park for a hockey story? I don’t know. I’m kind of mixing my sports metaphors
Will: It’s all sports ball. You got it.
Jeff: What I really love dropping back now that you’ve said sports ball, Carter doesn’t know anything about sports, and it’s often called sports ball or doing the sports or go do your sports thing. Totally adorable and made me think of you at the same time.
Mike and Danny in “Game Misconduct,” such a fiery couple who you’d never think should be together and yet are totally a great duo. So many things about this book. The amount of time they have to spend apart because they’re on separate teams, which leads to some great emails and texts and phone calls and FaceTime.
And then also the way that they very quickly start to help each other and really come together to form that great duo. The fact that Mike helps Danny become a better player, even though they’re rivals on separate teams. The way that there’s this gentle coaching that happens. And then Danny trying to encourage Mike to get some help for some of his mental health issues that he’s got. It’s all just so perfect. And Ari’s spin on pro hockey was brilliant because it became a co-ed sport the way that they wrote it. I haven’t read the second book in this series yet. It is high on my list of things to hurry up and get to. And if it’s anything like “Game Misconduct,” you may hear about that book when we do what I loved most in 2024. Just brilliant.
Finding My Elf by David Valdes
Will: So lastly, I think I’m going to call this one a seasonal bonus recommendation. I really hope everyone checks out “Finding My Elf” by David Valdes. We loved it. And Jeff and I talked about how much we loved it in episode 442. If you haven’t listened yet, be sure to check out our interview in that episode with David Valdes. It’s a really great holiday book if you need something to wrap up your end of year reading.
Secret Heir for Christmas by LaQuette
Jeff: And I’ll do a seasonal bonus as well. “Secret Heir for Christmas” by LaQuette, which I reviewed and talked with her about in episode 440. This book, there is so much love that just pours off the page. Not just in the romance with Stephan and Carter, but with the entire Devereaux family. It’s just this perfect little Christmas package of happiness and joy, despite some of the issues that go on in the family. This book is so much joy and magic. I really hope, much like “Finding My Elf,” that if you haven’t read these books yet, please get those into your seasonal reading list before the year ends in just a couple weeks.
Book Review: Time to Shine by Rachel Reid
Jeff: Now, before we get into the interview with Rachel Reid, I want to talk a little bit about “Time to Shine.”
I’ve been a huge fan of Rachel Reid’s “Game Changers” series, and so, of course, I picked up “Time to Shine” as soon as I could get it. This is a different tone from “Game Changers,” as you’ll hear Rachel talk about in a moment. This is more of a fantasy version of the NHL, where being out isn’t an issue. There’s also a festive vibe to this book, as it takes place over the holidays.
And honestly, it’s hard not to fall in love with Casey and Landon. These two are so very opposite, with Casey needing to be around people, and Landon wanting very much to be left alone. Honestly, I just wanted to give these guys both just comforting hugs because they’re so up in their heads so much and really just need someone to kind of help make them feel safe.
And of course, these two who are so opposite in this way, end up sharing a house. You see, Landon is called up to Calgary when a goalie is injured. He expects to be there a very short time and then to go back home, so he’s happy to keep himself to himself, as he always has. Calgary’s superstar Casey, though, invites Landon to come live with him. He’s got plenty of room in the too big house that he’s bought, and he would love to have somebody else in there with him. Because not only does he want to be around people, he’s also a little bit afraid of the dark. It’s grumpy sunshine to an extreme here. But it’s really great how they slowly help each other to find more of a middle ground.
For Casey, it means that maybe he can be alone sometimes and help to understand why sometimes other people need to be left alone and that he can’t always try to be the fix it person for someone. For Landon, he finds that there are at least a few people that maybe he really does want to be around, and he doesn’t have to be alone all the time.
Rachel does her usual terrific job of giving her characters a wonderful trajectory to an HEA. What I really love here is that these two, who you would never think could be right for each other, actually are. The small ways that they continually kind of pierce through each other’s armor is so wonderful to watch. So often it’s very tender the ways they handle each other, and that really brought me all the feels. This book was complete perfection to me, and I so highly recommend it to you.
Now let’s get into the conversation with Rachel, where you’re going to hear even more about what I liked about this book so much. I had a great time talking with her to find out what inspired the characters of Casey and Landon, and what led her to writing a book that has a lot of holiday themes in it. We’ll also talk a little bit about what the NHL went through this fall with the whole Pride Tape thing, and Rachel gives us details on what she’s working on next.
Rachel Reid Interview
Jeff: Rachel, welcome back to the podcast. It is so great to have you here.
Rachel: Oh, it’s great to be back. Thank you for having me again.
Jeff: I had to have you back to talk about this amazing book, “Time to Shine.” Landon and Casey captured my heart so, so much. Tell everybody in your words what their story is about.
Rachel: I think a lot about goalies, but I think a lot about backup goalies specifically and kind of the strange nature of their job, especially the ones who get called up and sent back a lot.
I’m a Montreal fan, so I see a lot of this with their goalies. So, you know, Montreal is different because the farm team is in Montreal. And for the record, so is Calgary’s. I took some liberties. So, like just the idea of that, for the farm teams that are not in the same city as the team, like that having to go back and forth fairly frequently, maybe never really feeling like you’re part of the NHL team when you’re there and kind of the loneliness that might be there.
And from that, I just kind of got this idea that what if there was this really lonely guy anyway, and he gets called up and he gets his chance. And he’s going to stay a little longer than usual. And then who would be a really good love interest for him. And it’s like a really outgoing, really friendly superstar would be fun.
So that’s basically what it is. It’s a backup goalie, Landon, gets called up from the Calgary farm team in Saskatoon. He finds out he’s going to be staying for a while because the team’s backup goalie is hurt. So, he’s going to be their backup goalie and his teammate Casey is like the son of an NHL star, he’s a superstar himself. He’s quite young and he’s very outgoing, but he’s also recently bought a house that is much too large for him to be living in by himself, especially since he’s scared of being alone, and he’s scared of the dark, and a bunch of other things. So, he just is somebody that really needs people around him at all times, and he hasn’t had that lately, so, he invites Landon to move in with him and they you know, fall in love.
Jeff: You make it sound so easy, but it so isn’t.
Rachel: You know, that’s like you do.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly. Like you do.
It’s really the opposite of a usual forced proximity. They’re forced proximity in the house, but yet the house gives them so much space to also be apart.
Rachel: Yeah, I’ve been kind of selling it as ” there are so many beds, but they share one anyway.”
Jeff: And some of the longing that goes on between those rooms too, you write that so well when they’re in their separate spaces going, I really want to be over there.
Rachel: Yeah, that was the funnest part was coming up with, you know, reasons for them to kind of come back together. And I mean obviously making Casey somebody who just always gravitates towards other people, but he is trying really hard to give Landon his space because he recognizes that he’s somebody who does need to be alone.
Yeah, but then Landon kind of comes to realize he maybe doesn’t want to be as alone as he has been. Especially when it comes to Casey.
Jeff: Before we move on from the house, it’s a perfect moment to ask one of the questions from our Patreon community cause Rhonda’s curious, like, why exactly Casey bought this house that he also seems to hate.
Rachel: Yeah, so the thinking behind that was, okay, he just signed his first big contract. So, his entry level contract ended. So now he’s got like big NHL money. We could probably assume, I can’t remember if I named it in the book, but, you know, it’s probably like seven, eight million dollars a year, and his dad is like a big investments guy, he’s good with money, and so my thinking was that he really encouraged his son to buy this house because it’s a good investment, and Casey’s keen on taking advice from other people.
And also, I think he realized that the teammates he was sharing a house with in the previous seasons kind of wanted him out of there. He could tell that they probably didn’t outright tell him to go, but he could tell that they were getting sick of him. Which he alludes to in the book a bit.
So, I think he just felt like buying a house is what you do when you sign your giant contract. And you can, and you know, certainly his parents were like, you should buy a house. And probably his roommates were like, you should buy a house and get out of here. So, he did it. And then he’s regretted it every day since.
Jeff: Every day since until Landon shows up. This is such an amazing opposites attract scenario, because there’s certainly Landon, as you mentioned, who’s I very much need and want to be alone. And then Casey’s, I can’t be alone. There’s reasons for both of them that they are the way that they are. A lot of mental health things are wrapped up in this and somehow you managed to keep this book light for the most part, like lighter than “Game Changers” was in a lot of ways. And yet you don’t downplay these issues either. How did you manage to find that tone?
Rachel: I think I did a lot of editing because we wanted to make sure it didn’t get too heavy at any point, but I also didn’t want to, you know, make it, I don’t know, have too light a touch with especially Landon’s problems.
He’s grieving and, you know, he’s sad for very legitimate reasons. But I tried to set the story at a point where he’s gonna start to heal. So, I felt like that would lighten the tone quite a bit. His grief isn’t fresh, but it’s something he hasn’t dealt with. I also I think I kept it light by not giving Casey too many problems. He has is you know his need to be around other people and his fear of the dark that he’s embarrassed about It was tempting to make his dad somebody who’d be really hard on him. But I tried to keep Casey’s problems like a little bit lighter. He gets teased a lot by his teammates, but I tried not to make that too heavy either.
So, find that balance, I guess. But yeah, I was definitely conscious the whole time I was writing it that it shouldn’t be too heavy, but I also, you know, needed to have some angst and some conflict in it.
Jeff: As you do, I mean, cause you got to have a little bit of obviously stuff going on in there and it to me follows along, even though it’s in a separate universe from “Game Changers,” followed through on that because so much of “Game Changers” really looked at the mental health of athletes and people in general. And then to bring that over here, it just seemed like a natural extension of what you write about.
Rachel: Yeah, I really like writing about mental health issues, especially in hockey players, because I feel like it’s something that’s not talked about very much. So yeah, that was definitely going to continue to be something. I can’t imagine writing about hockey without including something to do with that. But yeah, so I kept that and, you know, not so much the homophobia, internalized or otherwise, that I have in “Game Changers.”
Jeff: Yeah. This is a much more, I would almost say healthy NHL organization than what we find.
Rachel: The real fantasy version of the NHL.
Jeff: You wrote on a blog post on your site that this book, not really a holiday romance. It’s just really set in the holiday season. And granted, while the romance elements don’t climax over Christmas, there’s certainly a lot of Christmas going on, and I feel like they do enough Christmassy stuff that you could qualify as a holiday romance. I certainly found it to be quite satisfying.
What led to you finally doing a Christmas book? There was never a Christmas time at “Game Changers.”
Rachel: No, I like to skip over Christmas typically, just, I hate writing gift giving. I find it really hard. And you know, hockey players get a very short break for Christmas, it’s like a couple days, so it wasn’t really… you know, it didn’t seem like much to work with. But yeah, I felt like I didn’t want to sell this like strictly as a Christmas romance because to me when I pick up a Christmas romance, it is going to lead to that Christmas based event. Like, that’s what the whole story is leading towards and then that’s sort of the end of the book.
And this book isn’t like that like where Christmas is placed in the book. But if you don’t necessarily need. your Christmas romance to follow that Christmas romance structure, then yeah, there’s quite a lot of festive elements in this one. And it’s definitely the most I’ve written about Christmas, and there is a full several days of Christmas going on in it. And you know, there’s gift shopping, there’s decorating, there’s festive treats just like all the family’s coming together, all that Christmassy stuff… Costco trips.
Jeff: Did it start its life as a Christmas book, or did it kind of just turn into that because of the time of year that it was being set?
Rachel: Yeah, because of the fall deadline you know, I knew that my publisher would like to have festive elements in it if it’s not a full-on Christmas romance. I didn’t think I could write a Christmas romance. I just didn’t think I had one in me. But as I was writing it, I did tell the publisher that I was like, you know what, I think this might be a Christmas romance actually. It’s very festive, and I think if you… It should be acknowledged at this point there’s enough in there that it’d be weird to not give it a festive cover and stuff like that, so, that’s what we did. And I think they were very happy with that.
Yeah, it’s interesting to see it’s different from what I’ve done before. I haven’t really done a book that, you know, aligns with the time of year that it comes out. So, it’s a different experience. And it’s my first big, you know, big bookstore release as well. So, it’s different for lots of reasons.
Jeff: I was so thrilled to find it in a Barnes and Noble. It’s, oh, look, there it is. I need to get it right now because it needs to be on my shelf along with those “Game Changers” books that have been dropping in paperback as well.
Rachel: I saw it in a drug store the other day and I was so excited because it’s like drugstore… drugstore level … that’s like airport.
Jeff: Or supermarket. You know, I always look at the supermarkets like, do I know anybody on the shelf right now?
Rachel: Yeah, I always look because there’s like just a handful of romance novels and, you know, it’s always neat to see which ones they pick. And there’s never any gay romance that I see at the drugstore or at my grocery store. So, it was really exciting to see this there.
Jeff: And it’s such a gorgeous cover. I mean, it’s seasonal and I was thrilled they got the goalie skates right. That’s just something that my eye picked up, that the goalie skates for Landon looked really good.
Rachel: I’ll say that was me. The first version he had regular skates, and I was, like, not to nitpick, but, and I think they added the hockey stick in Casey’s hand later too. That wasn’t me. That was just somebody’s decision. And I think that was the right one because it makes it clear that they’re both hockey players.
Jeff: Yeah. One of the other ways that this differentiates for you is that you got to write teammates falling in love rather than something where you had to keep people separated for a long time. How did that feel finally?
Rachel: I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier. It’s so easy. Like, why didn’t I think of this before? Obviously yeah, cause that is the hardest part of, basically every other book I’ve written is they’re only together for short periods of time. And then you have to have a whole week or two where they’re separated.
Hockey players are generally busy even when they’re home. So, it was just difficult. But I mean, I guess the easier thing about doing that is you can really skip ahead in time more quickly and be like, well, he was gone for two weeks… two weeks later.
But I couldn’t really do that with this. This was like minute by minute almost. It’s a very short amount of time that I gave myself to tell this whole story, you know, about two months. It was a different challenge, but also a lot easier in most ways, I would say, so I would definitely like to write teammates again.
Jeff: And two months is pretty quick, because I feel like the other books mostly almost take place over most of a season, if not an entire season.
Rachel: Yeah, I think “Game Changer” was, like, the first one was quite short. I think that one takes place, it starts in January, and it ends with, you know, Stanley Cup Finals time. So, that one’s fairly short, but… yeah, this one was even shorter. So, yeah, I think, usually I give myself a whole season or so.
Jeff: Doing so many different things, did you have any particular challenges navigating getting Landon and Casey together? Or did it all kind of fall together even though it was in so many ways, writing different stuff than you had?
Rachel: I think the biggest challenge was me deciding whether or not Landon was going to stay in Calgary because I did have the idea of him still going back and forth to the farm team, which would have separated them a bit and could have allowed for more time passing. But I felt like I liked the kind of proximity. I haven’t really done a lot of forced proximity stuff either, so I wanted to kind of roll with that. And so, I think, yeah, the biggest challenge was trying to figure out at what point they are going to get separated and where that kind of conflict comes in and how they react to it and how it gets resolved. But it took me a while to make up my mind about where that was going to go, but that was probably the biggest challenge.
Jeff: And what’s a favorite scene in the book? If you can give us one without spoilers.
Rachel: Probably the scene where Casey is consoling Landon after a game that doesn’t go very well for Landon. And he’s just kind of talking to him through Landon’s closed bedroom door. I liked writing that scene. It was a scene I had an idea for early on and I was excited to get to it and I like how it turned out. So, I think that one probably.
Jeff: I’m so glad you picked that one cause that one, that’s one of the cornerstones of the book that really I latched onto cause it’s like not only is there this burgeoning romance happening, but you know, this is somebody really reaching out to their friend, their teammate and be like, I am here if you need me to be here and just hanging out. It was really sweet. And I just loved it.
Rachel: Yeah, but without storming into the room. I wanted him to still give him his space and not be like, I demand that you let me in, you know.
Jeff: Which also took as a growth moment for Casey, who, you know, before, not too long before that, he would have been like, all over that. What can I do? What do we need to do? What can I get you? But just calm and…
It’s one of the things also that I just love about it. They’re both growing and they’re both learning from each other. You couldn’t have put two people together who I hate to say needed each other more because, you know, obviously they’re not fixing each other primarily, but they’re certainly there and supporting and helping.
Rachel: Yeah, I think they definitely found each other at the right time.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s the perfect way to put it.
Rachel: Yeah, cause they could have passed two ships in the night at another point in time. I mean, if that injury hadn’t been as bad as, you know, as it was, then Landon would have been there for a couple of days and back to Saskatoon, so.
Jeff: So got a couple other questions from a member of our Patreon community. These two come from Sarah. And I think she starts off with a very difficult question, potentially of if you couldn’t write hockey anymore, for some reason, no more hockey romance, temporary hiatus there. You can’t write it.
Rachel: It’s illegal. Okay.
Jeff: Yeah. Somehow, you know, you can’t do it. Amazon’s just not going to put it up, whatever that is. What’s the sport that you would write instead?
Rachel: Oh, the sport I would write instead. Because my preference would be to not write sports anymore. But I think I don’t know. I think I would write about a really underrepresented sport. Something like darts. Something that’s there’s no romance about it. And it doesn’t seem sexy either. But I feel like something like that would be kind of fun. You know, some of the Olympic sports are kind of interesting because they’re kind of niche and the community around the sport is so tight. So that’s sort of interesting. But I think what I really want to do if hockey romance was off the table, I think I’d write romance that is not hockey or sports for a bit.
Jeff: Is there something you would explore in romance that’s totally outside of sports, that’s kind of knocking around your head?
Rachel: Yeah, I’ve had some ideas. I live in Nova Scotia, and I’d love to set something here. I’d love to do something around really small towns here, I’ve had, you know, ideas for different things about that. But I think no matter what I write, I’d probably still want to write about lonely, tired men.
The thing about hockey is most of them are quite young, and I like writing about men who are closer to my own age. So, yeah, I probably would write more men who are like, at least in their forties.
Jeff: And I like how you classify them as tired, because I know certainly for me as I get older, I’m tired.
And Sarah’s other question is, she wants you to choose your ultimate cake. What flavor and icing combo is a must?
Rachel: I love cake. I don’t know if I’ve met a cake I don’t like, but I really like banana cake with cream cheese icing. I think that’s solid. And I really like chocolate cake that has like that boiled icing. I think some people call it like seven-minute frosting. I think it has different names in different regions, but it’s almost like marshmallow, like you boil it, and you fluff it up. And it’s like sticky, like marshmallow. That on chocolate cake is so good. So, I’m going to go with that.
Jeff: I think those are both really solid answers. Part of me wanted to put the banana cake and the chocolate cake kind of together in layers.
Rachel: That would also be great. There’s no wrong answers here.
Jeff: Right, as long as it’s a well-made cake you really cannot go wrong.
So, since we’re into the holidays, we’ve got to ask you the questions we ask our guests this time of year. What’s a favorite holiday tradition that you have?
Rachel: You know, we don’t have a lot of traditions in my family. But I always hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our house, and I would have like my parents and my husband’s parents over and my brother and stuff. And I’d make like a sort of fancy meal, have a ham and some, you know, sides and you know, we’d hang out and I think I’m gonna break the tradition this year. I think I just want to relax. It’s just a lot of work. So might be starting a new tradition this year of chilling out on Christmas Eve and like playing board games.
But yeah, I think my traditions are usually baking a lot of cookies. I do like to bake. That’s probably one of my favorite things about the season. And I don’t know. Yeah. Usually board games, jigsaw puzzles, stuff like that in the weeks around Christmas and just being cozy watching a lot of Hallmark movies.
Jeff: Cannot beat the Hallmark movie season.
And it sounds nice just relaxing a little bit. Being around people’s good, but making it not a overly stressful event to me is always a benefit if you can have a low stress Christmas and holiday season.
Rachel: Definitely have the kind of family where we’re sort of… we don’t have that much to say to each other. So, we’re just sitting there like, so… So, I feel like, yeah, I’m not doing the dinner. We’re just going to relax and have fun. It’ll be nice.
Jeff: You mentioned several foods in there. What are your favorite holiday foods?
Rachel: Oh, man, I make this squash that’s like an Emeril Lagasse recipe that has like bacon and apple and maple syrup and all sorts of stuff in it. It’s so good. So that’s like my go to side that I make. So even if I’m going somewhere else for Christmas dinner, I usually offer to make that. And I only make it at Christmas, so it’s very special. But I also just, you know, I love shortbread cookies a lot, so Christmas is a good excuse to eat those. I’m a really big licorice Allsorts fan, and they seem festive to me. I don’t usually have them if it’s not Christmas. So, those sorts of things. Yes, I just like cookies.
Jeff: Tell me more about the cookies, because I love a good Christmas baking of cookie kind of scenario.
Rachel: One of the favorites that people ask me to make them is I make these meringues that have crushed up we call them Score bars in Canada, but I think Heath bar would be the equivalent in the United States. Like a hard toffee kind of filling. You crush them up with a hammer and then you put them in the meringues, and they are really good. And I make lots of cookies. I think I make very good gingerbread men and I… shortbread and I make these chocolate cookies that have crushed up candy canes all over the top of them that people really like. And I enjoy baking and Christmas is sort of like the season where I give myself time to do it.
Jeff: Those meringues with the Heath bar send it really good.
Rachel: They’re really good. Those are the ones that everybody’s they want a batch of them as a gift, so. And they’re not hard to make, so I can do it.
Jeff: And what’s a favorite holiday gift that you received?
Rachel: This is yeah, a shout out to my dad. I’m a big Montreal Canadiens fan and have been since I was a little kid. My dad hates the Montreal Canadiens. He’s a big Boston fan. When I was a kid, I was like obsessed with Patrick Roy, the Canadian superstar legend goalie.
And he, in December one year when I was 12, he took us to Montreal to see a game at the old Forum, and it was like… I mean, that in itself was such a big deal for me. And I’d never been to an NHL game.
And then, when we got off the plane, he told me that actually we were going to the Forum right away. It was like morning because we were going to go to a Montreal Canadiens practice. He like knew a guy who knew a guy, you know? So, he got us into the practice, and we were seated right behind the Montreal Canadiens bench. And I got to watch the whole practice and I was just like; I couldn’t believe it.
And then after the practice, it was like, planned in advance that Patrick Roy came over to me, gave me his stick, and then sat and talked to me for a while and I didn’t say a single word. I like, just nodded, and shook my head. I was just like, so starstruck. So that whole thing was such an amazing gift that I’ll never forget.
And I know how much it pained my dad to do any of it. But just really a great memory. And I still have the stick, but the autograph is completely faded off, but it was the one he used in practice, so it’s still got the worn-out tape and stuff on it.
Jeff: Way to go, dad. That’s pretty epic.
Rachel: I know. Yeah, he can’t beat that.
You know those commercials where parents like surprise their kids by telling them they’re going to Disney World? This was my, that. Yeah, it’s amazing. Best gift.
Jeff: You mentioned a little bit earlier that, you know, “Time to Shine” is taking place in like this fantasy world where hockey culture is way less toxic because you hit that toxic culture, like throughout the “Game Changers” series and when you were on back at episode 329, we talked a lot about that particular culture and how you were writing it and how it even affected you as a fan.
Now, we’re talking right now at the end of October in 2023, I’m kind of wondering how you’re feeling about things now, because we’ve just seen the league go through this, we’ve banned pride tape. Oh, I’m sorry. We take that back. We’re not going to ban pride tape. But I think they’ve still banned the pride jerseys from getting worn. You know, are team’s going to have pride nights anymore. All this back and forth. And it seems you know, the culture it’s kind of backsliding here a little bit all of a sudden.
How are you taking that as a fan and as an author who writes these romances?
Rachel: Yeah, I just feel like it’s so discouraging because everything just seems to be getting worse. I’m just really tired of, you know, the NHL, and basically the whole world, bending over backward to appease an ignorant minority of people who are just very loud. I do think, most players are fine with wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride Tape.
I don’t mind having Pride jerseys and some of the players saying they’re not going to wear them because I’d rather know who the homophobes are. I’d rather they have to go out there. Or, I mean, I guess they don’t even go out, but it’s… I’d rather they, you know, be seen as, you know, having those beliefs.
So, it’s been really discouraging, but then, you know, Travis Dermott and the Coyotes, he like, put a little bit of Pride Tape on his stick during a game the other night, and that’s what made the difference. That’s what made the league change their mind, and I love that somebody looked at this stupid rule and was like, I dare you. What are you gonna do, fine me? And he’s not a superstar by any stretch. He doesn’t even have, you know, a contract beyond this season and he’s making league minimum, and he still is the one to do it.
I would have loved to see a lot more players doing it, like big stars. All the big stars that were talking about how they didn’t agree with it. Well, then put some tape on your stick. That’s a great way to quietly protest this. But I don’t know if Conor McDavid is going to put Pride Tape on his stick, I don’t think the league’s going to say anything about it, so.
But yeah, I think it’s been tiring.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s a good word for it. I mean, it’s for a league that 10 years ago or so as You Can Play started up and the impetus behind You Can Play starting up, and why it began and the league getting behind all of a sudden to almost rip all that out in the course of a few months…
Rachel: because of a few loud people.
I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like that it was getting blamed on Russian players specifically, because there were plenty of Russian players that were wearing the jerseys, and also most of the players that weren’t wearing them were not Russian, so. Because that was the one of the arguments oh, well, it puts Russians in a difficult position. But it’s like, it seemed like most of them were okay with it, and it wasn’t really mostly them.
Yeah, I didn’t like any of it. And I continue to have a lot of problems with the NHL and hockey culture in general, but I vent them through my books.
Jeff: Except in this one.
Rachel: Except this one. But the one I’m working on now, totally venting.
Jeff: Oh, do tell. What can you tease us about what’s coming next?
Rachel: I’m working on the seventh “Game Changers” book. It is about Luca Haas, who’s a young player on the Ottawa Centaurs. So, we’re going back to those guys. The guys everybody knows and loves. But I just wanted to kind of write about a young player who’s gay and coming into the league now that all of this work has been done by these superstar veterans. And some of them are on his own team. So, you know, what’s that like for him? What’s the difference? I guess I just wanted to end “Game Changers” with the game being changed. See what the repercussions of that are for a younger player.
And because he’s 21. So, it’s also interesting writing. I mean, I just wrote about, you know, “Time to Shine” they’re quite young. They’re 23 and 24. But yeah, so this is the youngest player I’ve written a whole book about, because Ilya and Shane start young but get older over the course of their books. But they’re not super young for long. So yeah, that’s interesting. But yeah, I just kind of want to write about that. About, you know, what it means to somebody who’s just starting out in the league to have this sort of work done for them.
Jeff: I love that there’s going to be another book. I’m so excited to see that it’s going to go beyond, you know, Shane and Ilya’s big finale. And to see it, the idea of seeing what those two did and the other players who are in “Game Changers,” like what that means to this new kid who probably grew up like idolizing some of those very players and now not only playing with them but seeing the trailblazing.
Rachel: Yeah, and you know, he’s somebody that maybe a couple of years ago, imagine like, I’m going to have to hide, you know. I’m going to have to hide. This is going to be so hard, but then in his rookie season, he sees two teammates come out by the end of the summer, and then one of them marries another one who becomes his teammate. That changes a lot. Not only does he have these teammates, but he sees the support that they’ve gotten. It’s gonna change his whole life, really, so.
I could have ended it with “The Long Game,” and I did think I might do that, but then I just thought it needed one more chapter to the story that shows, you know, the positive change. And I think this book will be actually quite a bit lighter than the other ones. It’ll have less angst. And I think it will give the series a happy, a big happy ending. So, I think it’ll be similar to the other “Game Changers” books, but I hope it’ll be a little bit lighter and a little bit, like fun. I’m aiming for fun with this one.
Jeff: Awesome. I can’t wait. You know, it was a toss-up today for the video. I was going to wear a holiday shirt, which for those who not watching the video, I am wearing a holiday shirt, or if I was going to wear my Centaurs shirt.
Rachel: Oh yeah.
Jeff: Because I could have gone that route too. What inspired you to do merchandise? I completely love that you’re doing these Centaur shirts and some other various pieces of swag to celebrate the series like that.
Rachel: My husband designed that logo and I just had to put it on stuff. It’s so fun.
Jeff: So good.
Rachel: I started with stickers and then, you know what? I want t-shirts. And a lot of people told me that they would really like it. A lot of people told me they wanted jerseys, but I think that was just too expensive. Just too much. So, I went t-shirts, but I tried to make them look like the you know, NHL team official t-shirts, kind of, that you would buy. The player shirzies, as they call them, so.
Jeff: I mean, I would totally love a Centaurs jersey one day, but yeah, jerseys are spendy.
Rachel: Oh, yeah, and my day job is I make that stuff, like I make swag, so I can make custom jerseys more easily than most people could, but they’d still be so expensive.
Jeff: We do love to get recommendations on this show, of course. What are you reading or watching these days that our listeners should maybe check out?
Rachel: I just finished reading, like today, Cait Nary’s upcoming book, “Lucky Bounce,” which is a male/male hockey romance that Carina Press is putting out. If you’ve read her other books, this one’s quite different from them. It’s very light and fun and funny. It’s just a really good time. I recommend it. I think people will like it. It’s definitely more of a rom com than the other ones, which were really good as well. But yeah, it’s just lighter. So, that was really good.
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Taskmaster, the British game show, like comedy game show. And I’ve been playing a lot of this video game “Vampire Survivor,” and I really just blew through “Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” recently.
I think my favorite book of the year was, Cat Sebastian’s “We Could Be So Good.” But maybe KD Casey’s “Diamond Ring.” Those are neck and neck, I think. Those are both really good. Yeah, I don’t know, I’d recommend those.
Jeff: And what is the best way for people to keep up with you online, and especially to find out when “Game Changers 7” comes out?
Rachel: The best way to keep up with me online is probably Instagram. It’s really the only social media I use. So, my handle there is rachelreidwrites.
And the other place is my Discord server. I have a Discord server called rachelreidhockeywatchingparty. I don’t want people to think you have to watch hockey to join it. It’s called that because it originally started because it was going to be a one night only thing where I was watching hockey, and you could hang out and watch it with me. But it’s been going strong for over two years now.
It’s like an international community of people who talk about all sorts of stuff, so. And there is a specific channel in there about my books, and I’m there a lot, so I, it’s the best place to ask me direct questions or get information first about what I’m doing. I do have a link to where you can join that server on my website, and also, In my bio on Instagram.
Jeff: Rachel, thank you so much for coming to talk to us. Everybody should be reading “Time to Shine” this holiday season. So, so good. But it’s also, as we talked about, not completely Christmassy. So, if you’re not reading it in the Christmas season, that might be okay too.
Rachel: It could be a January read.
Jeff: That’s right.
Rachel, we wish you a very happy holiday season and look forward to reading more soon.
Rachel: Thanks. You too.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. We’ve got links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Thanks so much to Rachel for talking with us about “Time to Shine.” I’m so glad she decided to write a holiday book, or as she put it, a book that takes place in the holiday time, and that it’s also set in that ideal hockey league that hopefully one day we can get for real. Meanwhile, you know, I can’t wait for that next “Game Changers” book. It’s not going to get here fast enough for me.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next, we kick off 2024 on Monday, January 1st as we talk to author Kacen Callender.
Jeff: You heard me say earlier in this episode that “Stars in Your Eyes” was one of my favorite reads of this year, and Kacen’s gonna be here to talk to us about their very first adult romance. It’s a great conversation to kick off the new year with.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages, and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.